Go West, young man, Horace Greeley, the proponent of the glories of expansion, urged in the mid-19th century. That advice has paid off in the 21st century as those living in the West are far more likely to say their states are the best or one of the best places to live.
According to a Gallup poll released this week, the top five states where people say they are most pleased are in the West: Montana (77%); Alaska (77%); Utah (70%); Wyoming (69%); and Texas (68%). Only two states outside the West or the Midwest made it into the top 10: New Hampshire (67%) and Vermont (61%).
At the other end of the scale, residents who are far less enthused about their hometown states reside largely in the East.
Only New Mexico, a western state, made it into the bottom 10; the other nine are either east of the Mississippi River or border the geographic dividing line.
When residents were asked whether their own state is the worst place to live, Illinois wins the crown with one in four residents, about 25%, saying their state is the worst, followed by Rhode Island and Connecticut, each at 17%.
However, when the data are arranged by respondents saying their state is the best or one of the best possible states to live, Illinois (19%) edges out of the basement and Rhode Island (18%) does worse. That difference is still within the margin of poll error, which is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The survey flies in the face of some popular myths. Texans, noted in literature and the media for their bravado, place their state only fifth.
Somehow, one would expect a state with an unofficial motto of “Don’t Mess With Texas” to do better. That slogan was part of a state-sponsored anti-litter campaign but has long since evolved beyond its trashy roots.
At then other end, Connecticut, a beautiful state with many high-end enclaves and a major Ivy League university, does less well than expected, making the bottom tier. Also occupying the bottom entourage are such longtime media scapegoat New Jersey and Deep South states Mississippi and Louisiana.
Pharrell Williams can rest easy because the survey does not offer any real advice on happiness. “Like a room without a roof,” his famous, if somewhat opaque lyric seems more clear than any pattern among the top states.
For example, the overwhelming majority of the top states have significant mountain ranges and a majority are deep in snow belts. In addition, five of the top states -- Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont and Minnesota -- border Canada.
The Gallup poll was based on telephone interviews conducted June to December 2013, with a random sample of approximately 600 adults, ages 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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